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    So where did the anthrax come from? Who sent the letters? The FBI still doesn't know, but at least the bureau has a notion of who isn't responsible. An organization like al-Qaeda, which managed to hijack four jets almost simultaneously and fly them to destruction, could easily have put a thousand envelopes into the mail. But a small-scale attack--a handful of letters and five deaths--does not seem to be al-Qaeda's style. Moreover, the writing in the recovered notes bears little resemblance to known al-Qaeda messages.

    It's also far from clear where the killer or killers got the anthrax. One set of experts insists that it could have been manufactured in a well-equipped amateur lab--which is why the FBI suggests the killer probably has a room or a garage that's off limits to friends and family. Another maintains that the fine texture of the powder and the presence of additives that keep it from clumping into coarser grains suggest that it had to have been made in a government lab. In that scenario, the killer has either worked in such a lab or obtained it from someone who did.

    The disclosure two weeks ago that scientists at the Dugway Proving Ground, an Army facility in Utah, were producing, as recently as 1998, small amounts of weapons-grade anthrax suggests that such a scenario is at least possible. So did last week's revelation that the spores in the mail appear to be genetically identical to those used in Army experiments. But the FBI says it is still investigating dozens of labs--in universities and veterinary schools as well as government bioweapons facilities--and that it is still too early to identify possible suspects.

    Given the way the attack was carried out, though, and earlier experiences with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and other mass murderers, psychological profilers at the FBI decided in November that the anthrax attacks were most likely the work of just one anger-filled individual, probably a secretive loner whose rage at his targets--liberal legislators and the media--might point to a radical right-wing bent. For some reason, goes the theory, the Sept. 11 attacks set him off. One idea is that he knew someone who died in the World Trade Center attacks and was enraged at how his targets handled that tragedy.

    With only a profile to go on, however, the FBI is counting on a tip from an ordinary citizen who might know or at least have noticed a suspicious character--much as Kaczynski was finally fingered by his brother. The anthrax killer's psychological portrait was broadcast on America's Most Wanted, and in mid- December the FBI and the Postal Service announced they would be sending flyers directly to the mailboxes of New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents served by the Hamilton postal facility.

    In a way, the anthrax attack may turn out to be a blessing for Americans. Like a vaccine, which primes the immune system to help it detect and fight off invading microbes, this deadly but relatively contained encounter with a biological weapon has sensitized the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and just about everyone who deals with the mail--at work or at home. From now on, anyone who finds white powder spilling out of an envelope will know that it's not something just to brush off.

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